I always laugh when people try to claim that Audemars Piguet are a one-dimensional brand. I feel it is a rather blatant oversimplification of their offerings. Sure, the Royal Oak and its descendants feature some long-lasting and incredibly iconic designs. Still, the new 43mm Royal Oak Offshore demonstrates just how much AP's thought process is to improve what they offer. The new 43mm Offshores are a testament to that, and it's clear why when you compare it to the model it has just replaced.
History Repeats Itself
When the Royal Oak Offshore was released in 1993, its sole purpose was to extend the Royal Oak's offering and exist as a hyper-focused luxury sports timepiece. While the Royal Oak was a luxury sports timepiece too, it wasn't robust enough to withstand the demands of an active wearer that wanted a watch to do it all.
With this pretty simple task, Emmanuel Gueit, the Offshore's designer, created the Offshore that would evolve the Royal Oak's design into a sports-focused watch with features like a chronograph, a tachymeter, improved water resistance, a more ergonomic bracelet design, a new dial layout and a host of other things.
In the same vein that the original Offshore was an evolution of the Royal Oak, I feel the new 43mm Offshore variant is an evolution of the 44mm Offshore variant's design. With a long list of changes made, the watch has clearly been developed with the same rigid focus on its wearer that the original Offshore had all those years ago.
A New Movement… Finally
Beginning in the same vein as Randy Lai when he wrote our Watch Drop on the release of the new 43mm Offshores (where he provides an excellent rundown of the various models offered and his hands-on impression), I'd like to start with the new Offshore's most significant improvement – its new movement. As Randy pointed out in his piece, so many watch writers seem to overlook the movement, instead favouring to delve deeper into the aesthetics of a timepiece. I think doing that here would be a shame. Found in practically every Royal Oak Offshore since its creation in 2007, the self-winding cal. 3126/3840 modular movement has finally been replaced by AP's new chronograph movement, the cal. 4401 – itself introduced in the Code 11.59.
While the cal. 3126/3840 is by no means a bad movement by any measure, its modular construction (with a Dubois Depraz chronograph module) is somewhat downmarket, so I'm ecstatic to see AP introduce a new movement to the Offshore that will push it in the right direction. You see, the new cal. 4401 was built from the ground up as a fully integrated chronograph movement, and that's a big step up.
Apologies for the nerdy talk about to follow, but that has enabled AP to pack the new cal. 4401 with tech and specs that the older cal. 3126/3840 had been lacking. For a start, the new cal. 4401 beats at a much higher frequency of 28,800 bph (4 Hz), as opposed to 21,600 bph (3 Hz), providing more accurate timekeeping and a smoother second-hand sweep. Also, the new cal. 4401 features a flyback function so the chronograph can be reset instantaneously. Much like the original Offshore had its wearer in mind, so too does the new 43mm Offshore.
As mentioned, the cal. 4401 features a faster beat rate. This, in turn, means the movement will run out of energy faster as it powers the balance wheel to rotate back and forth quicker than it would at, say, 3 Hz. As such, you would expect a 4 Hz timepiece to run out of power reserve before a 3 Hz movement. If all things were equal, that would undoubtedly be the case between the cal. 4401 and the cal. 3126/3840, but nothing is comparable here – the cal. 4401 is a fully integrated movement, remember? That means AP have been able to equip the cal. 4401 with a larger mainspring barrel and pack it with an appropriately modern 70 hours of power reserve – plenty enough to take your watch off for a few days and return to it still beating away.
If it's not apparent by now, the new Offshore features a smaller case diameter of 43mm instead of the older 44mm case size. While a millimetre always seems like a small change, in watchmaking, it is the difference between a perfect fit and a watch that just won't sit right. Still retaining its impressive stature, this 43mm case also features some ergonomic upgrades that improve its positioning on the wrist. Namely, a slight curve along the 12 to 6 o'clock axis across the ceramic bezel and sapphire crystal makes wearing it a more comfortable experience for a wider variety of wrist sizes. Compared to its 44mm sibling, this is a nice gesture from AP as they continue to improve their watches and show their customers that they are taking their concerns to heart.
Beyond the case change, the 43mm Offshore also sees the addition of the innovative quick strap-changing system that AP had introduced earlier in the year with the Offshore Diver. With buttons on the back of the interstitial lugs, the wearer can remove one of the two straps that come with their timepiece and quickly snap the new strap into place.
Furthermore, the buckle features a similar tool-free design. Another step towards a genuinely customer-focused strategy, the 43mm Offshore removes the need for tinkering with tools, unlike its 44mm sibling who needed screwdrivers and patience (and some tape for us scaredy-cats… there's no shame in it, I use it too!).
Blending their need for ergonomic perfection and aesthetic freshness, the 43mm Offshore's most significant aesthetic difference from its predecessor is its dial. Featuring a new subdial layout of 3, 6 and 9, the chronograph is immediately more intuitive than the 12, 6, 9 structure of the 44mm Offshore. While the date has been moved to 4:30 and lost its magnification, the dial's overall legibility has been drastically improved for the better – how often do you need an immediate date read anyway? Alongside its new layout – which is more in keeping with the industry standard chronograph layout, by the way – the subdials also feature more significant inscriptions, making for an easier reading than what was there before.
Next up on the list of changes is the tachymeter scale. While they are seldom used these days, they still speak to the functionality that the Offshore tries to offer. Thus, it plays a vital role in the timepiece's use-case as a sports watch. AP have interestingly swapped the 44mm Offshore's base 1000 scale for a base 500 scale in the new 43mm Offshore. While it can now only measure slower speeds, it can do so more accurately than the 1000 scale 44mm Offshore could, so while the functionality has been reduced, the accuracy and ease of use have been increased. Notice a theme at all? Ease of use has really been this timepiece's raison d'etre if you ask me.
Finally, in AP's last bid to make this timepiece as user-friendly as possible, the 43mm Offshore has a larger crown than its 44mm predecessor. This makes for a more comfortable winding, time-setting and date-changing experience as your fingers no longer have to navigate the crown guard/pushers as much as they used to.
One of the most iconic aspects of the Royal Oak/Royal Oak Offshore family has been its tapisserie dial, and with inspiration to switch things up, AP has even changed that on the 43mm Offshore! On the 44mm Offshore, and the vast majority of other Offshores, it featured a Mega Tapisserie where the square sections were individual to one another. Instead, the latest 43mm model forgoes that design in place of 'X' shapes connecting each square. Providing a stunning visual depth to each of the five variants that have been released so far, this dial update does little in the way of ergonomics but a lot in terms of design.
Perhaps signalling just how serious AP are regarding updating their offerings for the better, I love the fact that they have played with something that was often thought of as sacred. Will we see this new dial design permeate through the rest of the Royal Oak collections, like the new strap system and cal. 4401 movement? Only time will tell, but I hope we do.
The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph / 43mm
Reference numbers: Ref. 26420RO.OO.A002CA.01 (black dial in rose gold); ref. 26420TI.OO.A027CA.01 (blue dial in titanium); ref. 26420SO.OO.A002CA.01 (black dial in stainless steel and black ceramic); ref. 26420SO.OO.A600CA.01 (smoked taupe dial); ref. 26420IO.OO.A009CA.01 (grey dial)
Thickness: 14.4 mm
Case material: Stainless steel/titanium cases, with ceramic/matching titanium bezels
Movement: Calibre 4401
Functions: Flyback chronograph, hours, minutes, small seconds, date
Frequency: 4 Hz / 28,800 vph
Power reserve: 70 hours
Strap: Various. Two straps per model.
Price: HKD $271,000 (blue dial in titanium); HKD $280,000 (smoked taupe dial; black dial in stainless steel and black ceramic; grey dial in titanium) HKD $419,000 (black dial in pink gold and black ceramic)
For further information, visit Audemars Piguet online